La Caille’s back — its ambience still the high point
Dining out • One year after renovations, new menu shows institution’s mostly on right track.
Published: December 6, 2012 08:58AM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:32PM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune La Caille's smoked rack of lamb, with lingonberry glaze, savory bread pudding and natural jus reduction ($48).

Sandy • If you’ve lived in Utah for more than a few years, you’ve likely been to La Caille for a wedding or event and heard good and bad stories about this venerable institution that put Salt Lake Valley restaurants on the dining map some decades ago. Most recently, of course, the restaurant attracted headlines not for its haute cuisine but for news reports about lawsuits, bankruptcy, a suicide pact, and the property’s sale.

Now, at the first anniversary of the new La Caille — complete with a new owner, new chef, new menus and new uniforms — it’s a perfect time to ask: How has the reinvention of this storied property fared?

As we arrived for a recent dinner, I shuddered at the memories of what I’d been served at the last three Christmas parties and two fundraisers I had attended here. Could this meal be the beginning of a fresh era or had the resurrection of La Caille failed?

Some hours later, well-satiated, I left the table with a light heart. We had enjoyed a number of standout dishes, and nothing my party ordered returned to the kitchen for a second try (a scene I have replayed here more than a few times).

To begin, the poached egg with corn cake appetizer ($12) offered a creamy polenta base topped with a perfectly runny poached egg. The fat from the yolk, along with the richness of black truffles and sweet corn paste, counter-balanced a balsamic reduction to perfection.

Poached sugar beets ($11) were a nice local nod, serving as a reminder of how the Sugar House neighborhood got its name, and well presented with toasted walnuts and creamy Montrachet goat cheese, while radish sprouts and candied orange peel brightened each bite.

It’s satisfying to see the concerted effort chef Brandon Howard is making to use local products throughout the menu. Slide Ridge Honey makes an appearance in a mignonette for the jumbo prawn and lump crab cocktail ($16). Creminelli’s pancetta was generously portioned throughout the house-made saffron egg noodles that served as a base for the fall-off-the-bone tender Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork short ribs ($39).

You’ll even find Beehive Cheese’s Promontory melted over delicately cooked sea scallops in the Coquilles Saint Jacques ($34). While these might be a traditional pairing in French cuisine, I just can’t convince my taste buds that seafood and cheese are ever a good combination.

The Chicken Oscar ($38) entrée featured a succulent skin-on Meyers Farm chicken breast glazed with a white burgundy sauce studded with capers, lump crab meat and fresh asparagus spears.

For vegetarians, there’s the butternut squash ravioli ($24), which was bathed in a delicate black truffle-infused butter sauce alongside fried leek straws and a mushroom and spinach salad.

Many of these dishes can be found on La Caille’s Common Wealth deal, offered Tuesday and Sunday evenings and from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For $36 (plus tax and gratuity), you’ll receive a three-course prix fixe meal along with a palette-cleansing amusé bouche.

For dessert, La Caille’s beignet Française ($12) are perfect for sharing around the table. These bite-sized French pastries are served hot with a sweet Venetian anglaisé and are ideal to enjoy with a cappuccino ($6.50) or mocha ($7).

You’ll also find the beignets served as the final offering of the Sunday brunch ($27) — which was less inspiring overall than dinner, although the basket of fresh-baked caramel croissants is worth the indulgence.

The Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon cake (Oeufs Pochés BenoîT, Croquettes de Saumon) arrived with just one Benedict alongside one smallish salmon cake and a similarly-sized patty of house potatoes. While the hollandaise was lemony bright and the salmon cake moist, the overall impression was disjointed and sparing.

Excited for La Caille’s version of French toast, the Petite Pain a la Française was an odd blend of a thick baguette slice dipped in what appeared to be beignet batter and then baked — leaving the interior mushy. My dining companion remarked numerous times that it reminded her of bread pudding, not French toast. The accompanying eggs were ordered poached but delivered fried, although the bacon was meaty and delicious.

A few service missteps still plague La Caille, including the lack of silverware replacement after each course and the laughable delivery of no less than three book-like menus to each of us at dinner. The hostess could barely carry them up the winding steps for a party of four and we were overwhelmed with them at the table once seated. Like the French serving-wench uniforms of the old La Caille, the cumbersome menus seem passé and unnecessary.

In just one year, it’s remarkable to see the progress the restaurant has made in terms of food, grounds and morale. I’m still hesitant about La Caille’s prices (with the exception of the Common Wealth menu), as it has been years since this Sandy institution was the only fine dining choice in the valley.

Any number of competing restaurants offer far more developed flavors and menu innovations, all of them at significantly lower prices. Granted, there’s something to the notion of paying for ambiance, which here is delivered in 20 acres of prime real estate replete with fountains, exotic birds and vineyards.

If the first year is any indication of what owner Kevin Gates, chef Howard and the staff have in store, it appears that there’s still much life left to be written in the continuing history of La Caille.

Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Heather L. King blogs at www.examiner.com/lunch-in-salt-lake-city/heather-king. Send comments about this review to food@sltrib.com.

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La Caille

Food • HHhj

Mood • HHHH

Service • HHhj

Noise • bbm

Sandy’s iconic French restaurant has emerged from tragedy to deliver fresh cuisine in a renewed atmosphere with new menus, a new chef and restyled uniforms.

Location • 9565 South Wasatch Blvd., Sandy; 801-942-1751

Online • www.lacaille.com

Hours • Tuesday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday dinner 3-8 p.m., closed Monday

Children’s menu • yes

Prices • $$$$

Liquor • yes

Corkage • $15

Reservations • recommended

Takeout • no

Wheelchair access • yes

Outdoor dining • yes

On-site parking • yes, valet only, $5

Credit cards • all major

Info • La Caille’s Commonwealth menu, offered Tuesday and Sunday evenings and from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, serves a three-course prix fixe meal of your choice, along with a plaette-cleansing amusé bouche for $36 (plus tax and gratuity).

Krista Nielson, a local fashion designer who teaches pattern making at Salt Lake Community College and writes freelance fashion stories for The Tribune, was invited to design new waitress uniforms for La Caille. She aimed for something elegant, yet friendly, with “the sophistication of a lady-in-waiting with the playfulness of a peasant tavern wench.” Neilson said she wanted the design to seem authentic for a country French restaurant, but not look “gimmicky or costumey.”

Her design began with a silk brocade corset top, in midnight green and mulberry with metallic accents, “reminiscent of the French romantic period.” Velvet burgundy corset lacings in the back provide a regal touch, and accentuate the waistline. The black ruched bodice with gathered sleeves, inspired by a traditional peasant blouse, adds a feminine touch, and works well with the shorter, fuller skirt.

Special considerations: One waitress was pregnant, so Neilson needed to design a maternity version. Also, the uniform has to be functional and comfortable for the work of serving food, as well as attractive to look at. Each waitress uniform is custom fit, and take about 20 hours to make, with the sewing and production work done by SLCC Fashion Institute students.